Storytelling - Autism Specific Sessions
A story by The Village Storytelling Centre
We delivered online storytelling and arts sessions for autistic young people and their families in Greater Pollok, Glasgow. This was accompanied by mindfulness activities for parents and carers and regular delivery of arts packages.
What Storytelling - Autism Specific Sessions did
We provided: - 46 x storytelling sessions through zoom for autistic young people & their parents/carers on Wednesday evenings. Sessions were preceded by a short video introducing a theme. Sessions included an oral story, a creative activity & some relaxation. Themes were largely driven by the interests of the young people, e.g. video games are a common interest among the group so during one session young people designed their own video game characters & took part in a 'choose your adventure' story activity.
Other themes include: gratitude, strength, kindness & International Women's Day. - Summer story bags and gift packs for carers. The carer pack included mindfulness activities, chocolates, a mug and something personal for each person. - Weekly arts packs (from October) - these packs included art & sensory materials to support engagement in the online sessions but also enabled people who were unable to attend the online sessions to engage in creativity & with their families. This was particularly good for families with younger children or young people who found online sessions stressful.
- Monday Mindfulness activities, sent via email these activities were created for carers & could be used/re-used at any time. The project was aimed at young people aged 8-18 however most of our regular online participants were aged 8-11. Families were recruited through our initial consultation prior to our first year of funding in 2019, word of mouth and through social media.
Due to lower numbers we made a successful call out on Facebook in September/October leading to lots of new families engaging in our activities.
Our project addressed the following priority areas: Complex needs, active leisure & independence. The project was completely different to our original application due to the pandemic, however it made a meaningful impact on our families & supported them to feel connected and valued at a very difficult time.
The biggest success of our project was the development of relationships, this includes the participants relationships with staff & with each other. The sessions were set up to build trust, self confidence & for the young people to be themselves.
What The Village Storytelling Centre has learned
We have learned that there is no 'one size fits all' project. Some families could not engage in online sessions due to digital poverty so we sought funds to secure devices and wifi packages. Some families could not engage in online sessions due to anxieties about being online and we recognise that some families simply cannot engage in regular activity so it is important for projects to offer flexibility such as:- drop in style sessions so families do not feel 'guilty' if they miss one or two, or are late.
Arts packs ensure that families who are unable to attend online activities for whatever reason can still engage and develop creative skills together and have fun. We also realised that many people who responded to our call out have younger children than our programme was set up for and indeed there is a lack of support for families with younger children with autism. We are considering how we ensure children of all ages feel welcome to join our activities and are looking at developing a specific 'inclusion' post who will work with families and our storytellers to support engagement.
How The Village Storytelling Centre has benefitted from the funding
The Sensate programme has been funded by Better Breaks for 2 years following a very short pilot. Over the 2 years we have been able to experiment with delivery, work closely with families to ensure our workshops and over all programme is wanted and suits their needs. We are now at a stage of reviewing this programme and our work to be an inclusive organisation. We have developed new relationships with organisations, artists and schools which have enhanced our reach, reputation and skills.
15 Children and young people will have new and improved supportive relationships with peers engaging with each other outwith the sessions.
10 x Children and Young People participating in the zoom sessions did build on existing and develop new relationships. This number is lower than anticipated due to the limitations presented by zoom. However we know that children and young people became comfortable in each others company and developed positive relationships. Some young people did not switch cameras on at first but as they became more confident they were soon participating fully. The sessions supported the children and young people to collaborate, take turns and to support each other when sharing their own stories and art. As the group developed it became easier for new people to join and some young people in particular bought a sense of joy and laughter which positively affected all of the participants.
X, age 8 joined Sensate last year with their sibling and mum. X was shy and reserved at first and did not engage in conversation. Over the first sessions X became more comfortable, more chatty and participated well during activities. They interacted well with everyone else on the zoom, bonding over linking the same video games. In the penultimate week X was asked to share a story and their creation was considered, skillful and confident. The following week X’s contribution was even more in depth and it was clear they had increased their listening skills and were supportive to all the other participants. It has been wonderful to see X's confidence grow. X’s Mother said ‘that is the most X has interacted with anyone apart from myself in months, thank you, (they) really enjoyed it and said (they were) glad to meet new friends!’
15 Children, young people report feeling more confident, valued and more happy due to the storytelling programme. 20 carers report feeling better connected, less stressed and with greater levels of happiness.
10 x Children and Young People participating in the zoom sessions reported improvements as above. From staff observations and feedback we know that many children and young people were shy at first, some not wishing to appear on camera but soon participating fully and sharing their stories and artwork. Given the limitations of zoom it was clear that participants developed a sense of comfort, trust and looked forward to seeing their friends. From the limited feedback we received from our Art Packs we know that families enjoyed spending time together creating, making and having fun using the materials. We provided weekly mindfulness activities for parents/carers to engage in on their own time. We know from feedback that this was wanted and made a positive impact on the wellbeing of parents/carers throughout the project but feedback was limited to informal conversations and messages.
X, age 11 joined in the latter half of the project. They like structure and rules to be clearly in place. The sessions can sometimes be quite lively, particularly if people talk over each other and forget to switch their mic off so X was generally very quiet and intimidated at start of sessions. However, X continued to attend and after a few weeks they were really keen to do activities, particularly the art ones and also was very keen to make up her their own stories. X even became confident in sharing those stories with their peers. X attended the sessions with their mum who also fed back that she (mum) found the mindfulness activities very useful, particularly when feeling stressed.
20 carers, including siblings will report a sense of being listened to, supported and welcomed as a whole person within our centre and with a new support network of parents
This outcome was very difficult to achieve in the circumstances presented by COVID-19. Our intention when completing the application was to deliver sessions in one room while providing a room for parents and siblings to connect and develop friendships and to build relationships with those parents in order to offer new opportunities. This was not possible during the online sessions. We tried to develop a Facebook group but the parents engaged with our storytellers and not with each other throughout. However, we do know that parents felt listened to by our storytellers, often sharing their challenges, successes and general experiences with our team during this very challenging time. We hope to build on this as we move into a COVID recovery period and move to face to face delivery.
One family had previously only engaged through some community events but came to pick up a story bag in the summer. During the pick up our Storyteller found out more about the family and told them about our programme. We kept in touch and although they did not engage in the online sessions, they received the mindfulness activities and arts packs. "The kids are finding all the stories and activities really very enjoyable and it is also giving me other ideas of things to try with x to try keep him entertained for a wee bit longer, I have found this very helpful and it is helping to improve his concentration slowly'. The parent is now engaging in solo weekly sessions with a storyteller and artist. Her children may engage when they wish but the sessions are designed for specifically for the parent. We know that we have developed an extremely positive and supportive relationship with this parent and seek to involve her in further projects. 'I really don't know how I would have coped at times without some of the new coping and relaxing strategies you have showed me, we are looking forward to other groups that we can take part in with you. '
Additional project outcome
Children and young people will have new and improved creative skills: 15 children and young people will have created and showcased a new/collective or individual performance or other artwork, and they will feel valued as artists
Throughout the project the young people were provided materials to create art such as: drawing, painting, collage and much more. Children and young people could do this at home in their own time but for those who took part in the online sessions, they could do the activity together, share their ideas and showcase their art work. Those in the online sessions also developed story making skills. All of the young people developed in this area, building up their imagination, verbal and non verbal communication and their confidence to share this with an audience of peers. X joined the group very reserved - often only half in shot and not engaging in conversation beyond the odd word. Often their contribution was about quite film/video game characters and often not relevant to the questions asked. In the penultimate week we asked them to share a story using an object from the room they were in. The creation was considered, skillful and confident, with the rest of us hooked on the tale of an octopus adventure. The week after their contribution was even more in depth, with the added skill of listening as we were taking in turns to tell different sections. It has been wonderful to see X grow in confidence through the weeks.